Real or Real Fake?

May 12, 2022

What am I doing? I can’t possibly go through with it. Everyone will find out that I don’t know what I’m doing.

 Have you ever experienced those types of thoughts? Unfortunately, many of us have. We suddenly feel incompetent, like we don’t belong. We feel if someone were to discover our so-called imperfections, we would lose what we felt we had achieved—credibility, respect, employment, authority, and the list is endless. What is this fraud-like feeling?

It’s called imposter syndrome. Imposter syndrome is doubting your abilities and feeling like a fraud at work.

According to Psychology Today, approximately 70 percent of adults will likely experience this syndrome at least once in their lifetime. This topic was first discussed in 1978 by Dr. Pauline Clance and Dr. Suzanne Imes, which focused on high-achieving women—students and professionals—who had doubts in their capabilities and abilities of being able to sustain the desired levels of success. Clance and Imes interviewed 150 women.

Regardless of the evidence stating and proving these women’s success (degrees, promotions, accolades, academic honors), they still were unable to eradicate the gnawing, internal fear they had of being a pretender. This meta-perspective happens often and has a detrimental effect on the ability to show up creatively and courageously.

I know I have experienced it on several occasions. In certain situations, I thought I was not worthy of the seat I was sitting in.

Why does imposter syndrome occur, and what is the true cost of our creativity? It can occur for a myriad of reasons that differ for each person, depending on their lived experience, their identity, and their direct perception of themselves.

If they don’t see anyone in a particular position who resembles them, the questions of “Why me?” may come flooding in. Even if they have received accolades from others, if they haven’t done the work of self-reflection, positive self-talk, and self-affirmation, they may not have internalized the truth of who they are and what they are capable of doing.

This will impact the quality and confidence of their ideas.

Since intercultural creativity advocates the establishment of inclusive cultures for the creative advancement of all, investigating the meta-perspective taking of imposter syndrome without looking at the cultural implications would be incomplete.

Harvard Business Review’s Ruchika Tulshyan and Jodi-Ann Burey are actually asking us to stop using the term “Imposter Syndrome” and call it what it is: non-inclusive work cultures that talk a good rhetoric but don’t really follow through with building a culture of belonging.

Now that’s a long title replacement!

The authors pointed out that the impact of racism, classism, xenophobia, and biases were absent when the concept of imposter syndrome was introduced.

“In truth,” they added, “we don’t belong because we were never supposed to belong. Our presence in most of these spaces is a result of decades of grassroots activism and begrudgingly developed legislation. Biased practices across institutions routinely stymie the ability of individuals from underrepresented groups to truly thrive.”

This exclusion exacerbates self-doubt. Not only is this harmful to the employees but costly to the organization as well.

Imposter syndrome is a multi-layered, intertwining, weighty subject but an important one that shouldn’t be ignored. We can’t expect to move freely in our creativity if we are constantly bombarded with these thoughts and feelings of inadequacy and not belonging.

Feelings of inadequacy can cause fear, which can block any attempts of movement because of the fear of appearing under-qualified. Exhausting! How can we jump this hurdle? By individuals first not letting the feelings of imposter syndrome exist unchecked. This is also true for organizations.

For individuals, it is important to objectively identify if feelings of inadequacy are unwarranted moments of doubt—that most of us face—or if these feelings of inadequacy are perpetuated by an unhealthy, non-inclusive organization.

Are there ways to help determine if it is fear, doubt, or being under-qualified? Absolutely. Try writing it down. Make a list of your accomplishments, and don’t hold back. You could also write down what you think are your best traits. This will help put things into perspective when dealing with your true capabilities versus a moment of fear.

Journaling is another productive outlet to help release feelings of uncertainty instead of allowing those thoughts to fester in your mind. Lastly, when these thoughts arise, know that you are not alone or odd. Others deal with this as well. This is a very real thing that real people deal with often.

You can find out more ways to overcome these obstacles by listening to the Create and Grow Rich Podcast (Ep #73): How Imposter Syndrome Inhibits Creative Potential And What To Do About It for Apple or Android.

It is important to remember that you are worth it. If you did the work to belong there then yes, you do belong there. See it. Own it. And give us all you’ve got!

“Imposter syndrome is the harm done by bias, exclusion, and oppression. All the -isms feed imposter syndrome.” –Neha Sampat, CEO and Founder of Belong Lab